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The 'Affluenza Teen' Is Out of Jail

Ethan Couch is free after spending two years behind bars for violating his probation—not for killing four people in a drunk driving accident.
Ethan Couch leaves the courthouse. Bob Booth/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty

When Ethan Couch was on trial for drunkenly plowing his vehicle into a group of people assisting a stranded driver in 2013, a psychologist testified that the teen suffered from "affluenza." This is a made-up word meant to describe a condition in which you're so rich that you don't know right from wrong, and at the time it upset a lot of people, set off a national conversation about privilege, and made Couch infamous. He didn't get locked up for the deadly accident, but for violating probation years later—and now Couch has been set free, the New York Times reports.


Couch had a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit—as well as weed and Valium in his system—when he killed four people and paralyzed his passenger on a joyride near Fort Worth. He pleaded guilty to four counts of manslaughter, but even though prosecutors wanted to send him to prison for 20 years, Couch ultimately received ten years of probation, and no jail time, for the killings.

In December 2015 he made national news again after he went missing and a video of him at a party where people were playing beer pong emerged. Authorities eventually busted him and his mom, Tonya, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where they were living under assumed identities. Couch was arrested for violating his probation and sent to jail for 720 days. Last year, prosecutors said Tonya Couch violated her probation by drinking a beer and holding a gun, though she avoided time behind bars. She was recently arrested for failing a urine test and locked up.

Now her son has just been released in time for his 21st birthday, according to the Times.

It's worth noting that juveniles in Texas aren't often sent to jail for accidentally killing people—or at least that's what one of Couch's attorneys told D Magazine. And his story is far from the first time that a privileged got completely off the hook for something heinous, or that the American criminal justice system has put more weight on lying or deception that it has on taking lives.

Correction: An earlier version of this article said that Couch had been released from prison. In fact he was serving time in a Texas jail.

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